Looking Twice

September 21st, 2009 § 0 comments

I remember Chicago the way I imagine I saw it as an 18-year-old girl fresh from the southern California suburbs. Unlike Richmond it has been four years since I have seen Chicago, and it has taken me a long time to make it back. It was surreal, deplaning at O’Hare, to see a place I have forgotten so easily and yet somehow remember so well. My memory of Chicago, or my mis-remembrance of it, has a heightened sense of everything. I remember the city being bigger, busier, scarier, louder, dirtier, harder, more threatening, more overwhelming, more segregated, and much less enjoyable than it now seems. I was amused by how narrow and small the subway cars were, they seemed like toy cars with their fabric seats and tight aisles, and I was dumbly amazed when I stepped off at Logan Sq. and the platform was completely deserted. I can’t remember the last time I saw an empty subway platform that was in service. Much of this, certainly, is the direct contradiction with my current city, but more interesting is the fact that most of what I saw contradicted the images in my memory.


I spent a good bit of time looking at a map before I left, as New York has taught me the benefits of knowing where you are, where things might be, and where you will want to return—perhaps I was inspired by my aunt who knows an enviable amount about her own city. I never did learn Chicago as a city, I learned small pieces of it and only by necessity. I knew how to get to and from school, work, the market, and the few restaurants I enjoyed—the rest was unknown space. Remembering how easily I used to get lost, I found Chicago easy (or easier) this time to navigate. Understanding directions, subways, and streets, combined with my memory of them, made wandering easy and interesting. It was too much space to cover in a weekend, and I allowed myself the freedom to document more as a tourist or notetaker than as an artist or photographer. Do I really know this place?


A recent letter made me think about how common the New York/Chicago comparison is, and how rarely I did it when I was there. What I compared were three different versions of Chicago. Regardless of how I choose to remember the city, Chicago itself has changed. Parks, gardens, buildings, shops, restaurants, new museum wings, etc. have been added since I left, and just as much has been deserted or changed. There is the Chicago that exists independently of me, there is the Chicago I knew, and there is the Chicago I see now. Reconciling all three is an interesting challenge. It reminded me of an old computer game we used to play that involved chasing down your own soul and trying to force it to reenter your body.


Wandering and pondering aside, it was a fantastic weekend. While I have yet to find out if I like or dislike traveling to a strange place alone, I do find that I enjoy visiting friends and family in this manner. First Friday at the MCA, seeing Redmoon in Belmont harbor, brunching at Frontera, exploring Logan Sq, thrifting with Fox, and the bonfires in the backyard at night made it a wonderful vacation. It feels right to reassess Chicago, as living too long without reconsidering why we feel a certain way about a person, place, or idea, can prove disillusioning. I don’t know about living in Chicago again, while the size of the apartments is tempting the winters are not, but I am glad to have pulled it out from being a piece of my past and into a rearranged part of my present.

kelly and fire

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